Monday, January 23, 2012

This is not the departure date you're looking for

My latest trip to Manila (via Dubai) went horribly wrong within seconds of arrival. Here's a picture of the departure lounge at Dubai, for no good reason whatsoever.

Manilaplane1

Protip: if you arrive in Manila with a Visa, don't assume the guy on the booth knows what he's doing. I'd heard the usual horror stories of people sorting a visa out, arriving but not showing it to the immigration guy and being stamped with the standard 21 day waiver instead of the 59 day pass they'd paid for.

No problem, I'll wave the visa under his nose from the getgo and that'll be the end of it. Right?

Right?

Nope. At the immigration gates, they want to see your passport, your immigration form and your itinerary / proof of onward journey. I knew I was in for a fun time when he looked at my flight itinerary and said "What's this?" in a confused fashion and gave it back to me without bothering to read it.

Undeterred, I gave him the passport complete with visa and he looked at it, did his stamp thing then gave it back to me.

My spidey sense told me to look at the stamp immediately, and sure enough he'd stamped me for the standard 21 day entry (instead of the 59 that I'd paid for) without bothering to look at anything I'd given him. Considering the amount of messing around a traveler would have to correct this further down the line, this is pretty inexcusable - especially since I showed him my flight plans, waved the visa under his nose and stated repeatedly that I was due to depart around the end of February.

Didn't matter, stamp stamp stamp 21 days see you later. Thankfully they have a person on duty standing behind the booths, and if you have a problem you can go see them and they'll send you back.

Even then, the guy seemed more annoyed than anything else that I'd come back again - when you've been on the road for 18+ hours across two flights and a zillion timezones this is not what you need to be happening.

I've had a few other crappy things happen at entry / departure - back in August, some guy in a guard outfit (there's a whole bunch of them before you reach the booths) "offered" to help me with my customs form then asked for a souvenir (ie money) once done which is a less than fantastic way to enter a country for the first time. On the way out of the country, the immigration guys didn't seem to be aware you could extend your stay and two of them accused me of overstaying. That was....kind of alarming.

I also had a similar problem when trying to obtain the a visa at the embassy in England for this current trip, because - sure enough - the guy on the counter looked at my passport Vs length of stay then decided I'd overstayed while in Manila from August to October. Again. Someone else had to explain to him that yes, you can extend your stay while in the country but really, shouldn't this guy know basic things like this in advance?)

They also told me that I couldn't get the year long, multi-entry visa I wanted and had to settle for the single entry. Why? Because according to them, you can only obtain the multi-entry if you've first been to the Philippines with one of their official visas in your passport. They claimed that turning up with a 21 day waiver, then extending while in country "isn't recommended" anyway and doesn't make you eligible for the multi-entry.

If extending the 21 day stay while in the Philippines isn't recommended, why on earth do they have immigration offices all over the country that do just that? Maybe I'm being stupid, but I don't get it.

There is no mention of having to first enter with a single entry visa to be able to obtain a multi-entry further down the line anywhere on their official paperwork, the forms you fill in, on any notices in the embassy or indeed on their website. Where this rule is written down, I have no idea but please tell me if you find it because I'd love to know. Why is a basic criteria of obtaining the multi-entry visa not listed anywhere? At the very least, it should be mentioned on the Schedule of Fees on the PDF document you print out and take with you but who knows.

Always, always check your passport when it's been stamped because the airport is quite a way off from anywhere, and I imagine you'll have a bit of a nightmare sorting out an incorrectly stamped passport should you look at it about five weeks into your stay then think "uh oh..."

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